Manufacturing and Public Opinion

By Carolyn Lee, Executive Director, The Manufacturing Institute

What comes to mind when you think of careers that make an impact, tackle big issues and create a better world? Do you think of manufacturing? Maybe not. But these are all hallmarks of a career in making things. Today’s manufacturing is about advanced technologies, state-of-the-art facilities and fast-paced work environments. But most of all, today’s manufacturing is about improving others’ quality of life.

Americans want to solve problems, start businesses and make a good living. However, to accomplish this, many think they must be surgeons, lawyers or someone like Bill Gates. They do not recognize that manufacturing careers offer opportunities to save lives and improve standards of living. Nor do they realize manufacturing jobs tend to pay above-average wages for rewarding, hands-on, engaging work.

Manufacturing is an industry in constant transformation, innovating, modernizing and growing. But with technological advancements accelerating and the skilled workforce retiring, many manufacturers face a new set of challenges. Today, manufacturers have jobs to fill but are struggling to find workers. This is due in part to outdated perceptions of the industry among the general public.

Manufacturing (Mis)Perceptions

A new study by The Manufacturing Institute, the Student Research Foundation and SkillsUSA found that 63% of students identified their own interests and experiences as having the greatest influence over their career decisions, with parents as the second-largest influence at 32%. Knowing that students’ experiences and their parents play a crucial role in choosing their career path, they must have frequent and varied exposure to manufacturing. However, too many parents still do not encourage their children to pursue manufacturing careers, sowing misunderstanding and apathy among the next generation of talent. This is at a time when manufacturing could not need that talent more. The bright side is that those familiar with the industry are more likely to encourage the next generation to enter manufacturing. And manufacturing’s image is improving: In a report by Deloitte and the Institute, Americans surveyed in 2017 expressed more confidence in the industry’s global and technological competitiveness than those surveyed in 2014.

The Importance of Manufacturing

Growing up, I was fortunate to have a front-row seat to the role manufacturing plays in the economy. As the daughter and granddaughter of manufacturers, I learned early the reward of seeing the outcome of your efforts and how a piece you produce becomes part of something larger. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, manufacturers contributed $2.18 trillion to the U.S. economy in 2016. The U.S. public values manufacturing and overwhelmingly sees it as vital to their economy and standards of living. In fact, those familiar with manufacturing ranked it as the top U.S. job-creation engine. They even believe more should be done to foster manufacturing and attract investment in the industry.

Modern Manufacturing

More and more Americans believe that the U.S. manufacturing sector will grow stronger in the long run and that future manufacturing jobs will be more innovative and require higher technical skill sets and more problem-solving efforts in safe and clean environments. While this is an improvement, we still have a lot of work to do to get more students and their parents interested in pursuing a manufacturing career. These jobs incorporate what many people want—good benefits, better pay and interesting and rewarding work.

For manufacturers to succeed, they will need to demonstrate to more Americans what modern manufacturing really looks like. Raising awareness and creating interest in manufacturing is essential to making it a top career choice. Through efforts like Manufacturing Day and programs directed at hands-on skill development, such as apprenticeships, manufacturers can improve recruitment and retention for future success. Manufacturers must tell their story. They must tell the world that their industry gives the chance to solve the world’s problems.

Workers talking in a factory.